Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Carlos Gonzalez said he was the first officer on the scene Tuesday morning, directed by a local resident to the wrecked SUV in the brush off the side of the road.
Gonzalez found one occupant in the car, trapped behind the wheel. He asked the man for his name. “Tiger,” the driver replied.
“And at that moment, I immediately recognized him,” Gonzalez said.
Tiger Woods, of course, is the most decorated golfer of his generation, the winner of 82 PGA Tour events and 15 major championships since 1996. On Tuesday, he suffered serious injuries in a one-car crash in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, an upscale neighborhood south of downtown Los Angeles.
Woods was “awake, responsive and recovering” after he underwent emergency surgery Tuesday to repair significant damage to his right leg.
In a press conference Tuesday afternoon, authorities explained when and how they found the 45-year-old golfer, and how they extricated him from the Genesis GV80 he was driving — a process that, according to a Los Angeles County Fire Department spokesperson, took roughly 12 minutes once they were on the scene.
7:12 a.m. PST
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said in a news conference Tuesday that his department first received a call about the crash at 7:12 a.m., from a resident in the neighborhood.
“We have to assume they made that call almost immediately, as soon as it happened, because the neighbors there are sitting right within 50 feet of the location,” Villanueva said. “If they didn’t see it, they heard it. Because it literally happened right at their doorstep.”
Villanueva said the crash occurred on a stretch of Hawthorne Boulevard that is frequently the site of accidents. There were no skid marks or signs of braking, he said. Authorities believe Woods’ car struck the center median, crossed into the opposing lane, hit the curb and then rolled multiple times before landing several hundred feet away.
Gonzalez, a deputy stationed at the Lomita Sheriff’s Station, arrived on scene roughly six minutes after the resident called 911.
“The neighbor that lives behind (the crash location) heard the collision and came down and was the one that directed me to the vehicle,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez found Woods trapped in the driver’s seat of the car, a brand-new model of a mid-sized SUV. Los Angeles County Fire Department chief Daryl Osby told CNN on Tuesday night that the golfer at one point tried to “self-extricate” — pull himself out of the vehicle — but was stuck.
Gonzalez, the responding officer, saw that Woods was conscious and appeared in stable condition.
“I made the determination it would be safer to wait for LA County Fire to help remove him, instead of trying to remove him myself,” Gonzalez said.
The Los Angeles County Fire Department was dispatched to the crash at roughly 7:22 a.m., with units from Station 106 heading to the scene.
Gonzalez said Woods appeared lucid as they waited for the fire department to arrive, though he was perhaps also in a state of shock.
“I don’t think he was aware of how gravely he was injured it at the time,” Gonzalez said Wednesday morning during his appearance on the “Today” show. “It could be a mixture of adrenaline. It could have been shock. … I don’t know if he had time to fully assess his injuries.”
Gonzalez said he tried to keep Woods calm by speaking with him and asking him questions.
“I asked him what his name was. He told me his name was Tiger,” Gonzalez said. “And at that moment, I immediately recognized him. I asked him if he knew where he was, what time of day, just to make sure he was oriented.”
In the meantime, Gonzalez also instructed a fellow officer to begin blocking off traffic to the area, according to dispatch audio.
Osby said responding personnel conduct a “scene assessment” when arriving at the location of a car crash, as they did at roughly 7:28 a.m., on Tuesday. They look for consciousness, breathing, bleeding and any serious injuries.
In this instance, Osby said, Woods was found to be conscious but with serious injuries to both legs.
The fire department also brings a variety of tools when responding to an incident, including the “Jaws of Life” — hydraulic tools that can be used to pry or cut automobile wreckage. But they also bring more traditional, hand-held tools like axes and pry bars.
Though the sheriff’s department initially said in a statement that the “Jaws of Life” were needed to help free Woods from the wreckage, Osby later clarified that they used axes and Halligan tools — which can be used to cut glass — to pry parts of the vehicle away from Woods, remove the front windshield and extricate him.
“The Jaws of Life were out there,” department spokesperson Christopher Thomas told USA TODAY Sports, “but basically what they did was they broke the windshield out.”
Gonzalez said Woods was unable to walk under his own power at the scene of the crash. The golfer was loaded onto a backboard, as a precaution for possible spinal injuries, and into an ambulance, which transported him to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.
Thomas said Woods was transported to the hospital at 7:40 a.m. — 22 minutes after the first officer, Gonzalez, arrived at the scene.
Osby described Woods as being in serious but stable condition. He noted that the golfer was taken to the nearest trauma center rather than the nearest hospital.
“If the injuries were more dramatic, and they couldn’t control an airway, then they would have transported him to the nearest facility,” Osby said. “The fact that he was stable enough to be transported to a hospital farther away … says that it was a very serious injury, he met trauma center criteria, but he wasn’t so serious that he needed to be transported to the nearest hospital for immediate life-saving procedures.”